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Posted on Sep 24, 2008 in Stuff We Like

Ukraine’s “Russian” Citizens

By Jerry D. Morelock

Map of Ukraine [University of Texas Libraries]

When the Soviet Union collapsed of its own dead weight at the end of December 1991, the demographic picture in the former Soviet republics – suddenly independent nations – was at the very least “interesting.” In some of these countries that now form Russia’s closest neighbors as much as 30-percent of their populations were comprised of ethnic Russians. Partly, this was due to the deliberate Soviet “colonization” policy dating back to the Russian Civil War era (1918-20) – Kazakhstan in Central Asia, for example. Others, such as Ukraine, have always had a significant ethnic Russian population. In Ukraine’s case, ethnic Russians form a majority of the country’s population in eastern and southern Ukraine (and nearly 60-percent of the population of the Crimea which only became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 and which has periodically attempted independence from Ukraine since 1992). Overall, nearly 20-percent of Ukraine’s total population of 46 million is ethnic Russian. Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkov – the country’s most industrialized city, home to over 250 defense related industries alone – is for all intents and purposes a “Russian” city. Most of its 1.5 million inhabitants (including the author’s in-laws) are ethnic Russians. The heavily-industrialized city of Dnepropetrovsk is in much the same situation. Although both cities are now officially identified using their Ukrainian language spellings – Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk – Russian remains the cities’ language. The Kiev government can change their spellings, but it can’t change the cities’ ethnic composition.


Language and culture are not the only things separating the country’s ethnic Russians from its majority ethnic Ukrainians. The populations hold distinctly different world views. A recent opinion poll of Ukrainian citizens asked what orientation the country’s foreign policy should adopt. Sixty-percent of ethnic Ukrainians responded that the country should orient its foreign policy towards the European Union. Sixty-percent of ethnic Russians said it should lean toward Moscow. Although neither ethnic group is particularly in favor of NATO membership (country-wide, less than one in three supports Ukraine becoming a NATO member), the ethnic Russian population overwhelmingly opposes it, justifying their opposition with a list of reasons that read as if written in the Kremlin.

September 3, 2008. Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko makes statement on the situation in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine's parliament). [UKRAINE OFFICAL PHOTOGRAPH]It should have come as no surprise, therefore, that one of the first former Soviet republic presidents to rush to Tbilisi to show support for the Russian-battered Saakashvili regime in the wake of the August 2008 Russian invasion was Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yushchenko. Given Ukraine’s significant ethnic Russian population, Russia’s justification for invading Georgia – protecting the lives of Russian citizens – must have struck close to home. Since it apparently is easier for a South Ossetian (and Abkhazian) to become a Russian citizen than for a Muscovite to get a driver’s license, the thought of 8 million ethnic Russian Ukrainians suddenly being handed Russian Federation passports must be a chilling one to the Ukrainian president. Yushchenko is likely particularly concerned about the Crimea, a diamond-shaped appendage jutting into the Black Sea, physically connected to mainland Ukraine by the tiny umbilical cord of the Perekop Peninsula, and in which 6 out of 10 of its citizens are ethnic Russians who resent Ukrainian rule. Russia already is the de facto “ruler” of Crimea’s main port, Sevastopol, home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. When I visited Sevastopol in 2005 (coincidentally, it was “Russian Navy Day” in town, complete with parades by Russian military and naval personnel only slightly less dramatic than May Day parades on Red Square), residents admitted that without the economic input to the city’s economy provided by the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the town would “dry up and blow away.” Beyond their economic domination of Sevastopol, Russian troops physically occupy numerous small locations along Crimea’s southern shore (including the Cape Sarych lighthouse which Russian army troops have occupied since 2005). Ukrainian courts have ordered the evacuation of Russian troops, to which Moscow consistently replies, “Nyet!” In 2006, Crimeans turned out in large numbers to protest against the arrival of U. S. Marines to conduct a NATO exercise in Crimea, resulting in the exercise being cancelled and the Marines being quickly removed. Crimeans seem even less friendly toward NATO than the rest of Ukraine’s population which is less than lukewarm toward the Western alliance. And if our Black Sea hotel landlord’s attitude is typical of Crimea’s population, Russian citizenship would likely be welcomed. Ukrainian political control of the “autonomous” republic of Crimea is shaky at best.

[Editor: Ukraine now saying the Black Sea Fleet must leave after 2017]

[continued on next page]

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  1. 2 mistakes in your article, one of which was/is perpetuated by sovoks, now by the neo-sovoks in the Kremlin.

    1) the Ukrainian National Army was NOT pro-Nazi. It was pro-Ukrainian. Ukrainians were caught between Scylla and Charybdis, between fascist Nazis on the one hand, and between fascist sovoks on the other. The Ukrainian National Army did not help kill Jews and ethnic Russians. It is irresponsible to continue to perpetuate this sovok-generated falsehood.

    2) Russian chauvinism shows up again. Russians quite frequently claim that “there is no difference between Russian and Ukrainian, that it’s all the same thing.” That kind of statement has been and is made quite frequently in order to support the notion that Ukraine ought to “be one” with Russian, which is Russian code for Ukraine ought to be subservient to Russia. The notion of “Russian superiority” was foisted onto Ukraine since tsarist times, and emphasized under Stalin through General Zhdanov.

    The Ukrainian elections demonstrated quite vividly, and in a funny way, just how false the Russian propaganda (“it’s all the same”) is. When it came to the elections, the pro-Moscow Russians in Ukraine did indeed scream like pigs that the names on the ballots would not be recognized by Russians.

    So I guess it’s not “all the same.”

  2. In as much as the Ukrainian National Army was incorporated within the workings of the Waffen SS (first called the 14th SS Rifle Division “Gilizien”), as were all foreign units from Russia, the delicate feelings of the time produced the opinion that all members of the SS were perpetrating war crimes. Even though some of the all-German “fighting SS” units were soldiers, not camp executioners or civilian slayers, it was the SS arm of the German system that most heavily perpetrated the atrocities. Most of the Allied nations freed the Ukrainians from the charges of war crimes after the war had concluded. Given Russian fear of Ukrainian nationalism, I can see why the Russian system would like to mask the national character of Ukrainians within the framework of a pro-Nazi barbarism. The Allies themselves were certainly wary of these “Russians”, dressed in German uniforms of SS nature, and since the unit had spent substantial time in Germany training and equipping the suspicions seem logical, although perhaps premature. Also, given the hatred the Ukrainians harbored for the Russian system as a result of the atrocities Moscow committed against them prior to the outbreak of the war I see no reason why they would hold back the hand of revenge against their former tormentors. I would be interested in hearing more from Mr. Morelock on this topic as he is much more closely connected to the current events and circumstances than I.

  3. Thanks to both “elmer” and Mr. Illies for their comments.

    Regarding “elmer’s” comments about the Ukrainian National Army, I point out that what I wrote was that it was “an anti-Soviet — and by default pro-Nazi” paramilitary organization. Obviously, it was pro-Ukrainian, but adopted the Nazis as allies of convenience in their, at that time, common cause against the Soviets. As only one counter to “elmer’s” claim that the Ukrainian National Army “did not help kill Jews and ethnic Russians,” I offer the example of the village of Yefremovka in 1943. When I visited my wife’s relatives there on my last trip to Ukraine, her aunt related the story of how SS troops, led and assisted by members of the Ukrainian National Army, rounded up over 900 villagers from Yefremovka and surrounding areas, herded them into the local church, and set fire to it, killing all inside. There is a memorial on the site with the names of each of the victims. My wife’s grandmother (and her mother, who was then a child) escaped, ironcially, by the efforts of a German truck driver (not an SS soldier) who warned them to take shelter in an underground cellar, then parked his truck over the entrance to conceal it. But arguing about whether or not the Ukrainian National Army was pro-Nazi and committed atrocities against ethnic Russians totally misses the point — the fact that ethnic Russians living in Ukraine today believe they did is what matters. These lingering suspicions that fuel fears among ethnic Russian Ukrainians about resurgent Ukrainian nationalism is the point of that paragraph in the analysis.

    Thanks again to both of you for your comments.

  4. I am delighted that you have taken the time to respond Mr. Morelock. Having been raised with my world maps depicting a massive portion of Eastern Europe and northern Asia as one large mass called the USSR it can be hard for me to grasp the details of the separate nature of the former Russian domains. I met a fellow from Russia some time ago and because of his accent I mentioned that it sounded Russian, to which he asked me how I knew it was Russian and not Ukrainian, Latvian, etc. The question surprised me a bit since in my naivety I had assumed that all “Russians” were Russian. After some study I found the complexity of Europe, as pertains to language and ethnic background, to be quite amazing.

    How do you see these events in Ukraine and Crimea unfolding?

  5. Mr. Illies, thanks very much.

    I hate to take the ‘cop out’ route regarding future events concerning Ukraine and Russia (and the Crimea as a sub-set of those relations) by saying “wait and see,” but at this point it’s too early to tell how this will eventually play out. Certainly, Russia has no intention of giving up its Black Sea port at Sevastopol and, in my opinion, Yushchenko’s recent posturing in that regard in the wake of Russian ships based there being used on the Georgian coast seem like empty threats given the economic importance of the Russian navy to the port’s economy.

    I have tried to provide in my analysis what I see as the major factors and issues related to any Russian offer of citizenship to Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population so that readers might have a better grasp of the scope and complexity of the problem and their implications for the leadership in Kiev and Moscow; but I hesitate to try to predict exactly how this will play out, as much will depend on the resolve of the leadership on both sides and the decisions each side will make. At this point, it seems that Yushchenko likely has the rockier path to follow, given the differing “world views” of Ukraine’s population’s major ethnic divisions.

    Thanks again for your interest and comments.

  6. I can see how Yushchenko would be in the more hazardous position having the independence of a nation upon has hands. Perhaps this would cause him to be more aggressive, if he doesn’t bend to the will of Russian incorporation. Independence seems to be built on a footing of war, or the capacity to effectively wear down the occupier without becoming worn-out yourself. If Russia keeps putting such pressure upon the Ukrainians it would seem that war responses would be resorted to and if Russia did not back away (perhaps because Ukraine was unable to foster help from other parts of the world) the Ukrainians would be forced to fight for their independence or be added back into the Russian domain (Naturally it would have the appearance of Russian “protector”, given the worlds current political arena).
    Revolts in the formerly Russian occupied territories were certainly not uncommon, Berlin in ’53, Budapest in ’56, Prague in ’68, and then the chain of revolutions in 1989 and onward. We also have the example of the Ukrainian desire to unite with German occupiers during WWII in the hopes of defeating Moscow’s control. How much more would they be willing to suffer in the face of losing independence that they had already tasted?

    One more question and then I will stop pestering you (Where else can I talk with a man so connected? I can’t help but bother you :0). Would you say that the Crimean War (1853-1856) has something to do with that regions dislike for western powers or is it based upon Crimea’s preference for Russian association? Perhaps neither. I am just curious if the Crimean conflict, which included Britain and France, is affecting the opinions of the peninsula.

  7. Although one of the first sights I saw when visiting the Crimean War museum & cyclorama in Sevastopol (created in the decades after the 1854-56 war, it was completely restored after WWII) were local “Crimean War re-enactors” wearing 1850’s Russian uniforms, I don’t think any possible lingering resentment towards Britain and France affects the average Crimean very much today.

  8. Indeed, on June 8, 2008 they staged a full reenactment event: “” displays a photo.

    I am pleased to hear that the latest Crimean war was enacted as an appreciation for history rather than a recalling of old vendettas. Thank you Mr. Morelock for the discussion. I wish you well.